Making Creativity Your New Competitive Advantage

In today’s digital economy, if it’s linear, it’s usually automated or outsourced! Think about it: What were you doing 10 years ago that’s now accomplishable at the push of a button? Campaign management? Performance analytics? Data management and storage? Do you see a trend? So where are we headed?


Technology forecasters predict hundreds, if not thousands, of new products will enter the market over the next decade to handle routine activities. In data mining alone, we have seen incredible changes. Years ago, we spent weeks building predictive models by hand. Today, predictive modeling software delivers more powerful models through streamlined, menu-driven processes that take minutes!
So what does that mean to us? If our competitive edge is based on linear processes, our competition may be able to buy software that accomplishes the same thing within a few years. What can we do to stay competitive? Quit using half our brains!
In today’s highly complex, competitive economy, our challenge is to create an environment that encourages “whole brain” thinking. To emphasize the importance, let’s look at a simplified model of how the brain works. To understand its function, the brain is divided into quadrants: The left cerebral mode handles the logical, analytic, and quantitative functions; the left limbic mode handles sequences (remember linear?), planned and detailed functions; the right cerebral mode handles the intuitive, integrative, synthesizing functions; and the right limbic mode handles the emotional, kinesthetic, feeling-based functions.

brain-sectionsMost problem-solving occurs in the brain’s left hemispheres. We begin in the left cerebral mode, where we memorize the correct answer. Then we move to the left limbic mode, where we make plans based on memorized rules and norms. This works well for many routine data-mining tasks, such as finding the average income of your customer base or calculating the response rate of a campaign. But if you are facing a new challenge like unexpected account attrition or a spike in insurance claims — events for which you have no rules — the left side of the brain can’t provide a solution. We completely miss the right-brain functions of intuition, integration, and synthesis, and so are unable to incorporate our emotions or feelings into solving a problem. By skipping the right side of the brain, we diminish our ability to think creatively.

In whole-brain problem solving, we begin in the left cerebral mode with the memorized answer. But we then move to the right cerebral mode and create a mental picture or image. This gives us a nonlinear view of the problem. When we move the problem into the right limbic mode, we may think of some atypical solutions or even have an “aha” experience. From there, we move back into the left limbic mode to formulate a solution.
So why is it so difficult to use creativity? First, creativity produces variance and decreases predictability. So if management has a high need for control, encouraging creative thinking is difficult. Another reason is that tapping into our creativity takes concentration. If our work environment is noisy and distracting, accessing the right side of the brain is difficult. And, finally, creative thinking requires some “downtime” to get the juices flowing. Did you ever notice how you get great ideas in the shower or while exercising? You might argue that you do not have the time or it is not cost-effective. But creative ideas that lead to small improvements to a marketing campaign can save or make millions.
How can we encourage whole-brain thinking? This can be difficult if it requires a drastic change in the company culture. But we can take several steps to facilitate it for ourselves and our staff:
Encourage group discussions where ideas are embraced. Brainstorming is an excellent way to get the creative juices flowing.
Change old habits: Use your non-dominant hand for routine tasks; take a different route to work.
Create a workspace that helps you stay balanced: Play music; fill your office with objects d’art; spend a few minutes in silent contemplation each day. It’s not a waste of time. It’s incubation time for the next million-dollar idea!
Webster’s defines genius as “Great mental capacity and inventive ability; esp., great and original creative ability in some art, science, etc.” So the next time you effectively use your whole brain, they might call you a genius!
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Business Success: Principles of Dialogue Part 2

The past few weeks we have focused on communications and dialogue.  If you missed the articles, you can read them here.  Today we will finish up the practice and principles of dialogue. 

Business Leadership

The Practice of Suspending: “The Principle of Awareness”

• Suspend opinion and judgment, and the certainty that lie behind them.
• Acknowledge and observe thoughts and feelings as they arise without being compelled to act on them; avoid “shoulds.”
• Access your ignorance; recognize and embrace things you do not already know.
• Be courageous in the face of fear.
• Understand what is happening as it is happening; you do not hear and know by turning up the volume.
• Put on hold the temptation to fix, correct, or problem solve. Suspension allows us to inquire into what we observe.
• Question; one good question is better than many answers. Tolerate the tension to not knowing. Ask “What are we missing? What haven’t we said?”
• Resist holding onto positions that polarize. Be willing to expand the conversation to hold beliefs other than your own.

The Practice of Voicing: “The Principle of Unfoldment”

• Notice your reactions, suspend judgment, honor your intuition and cherish your choices. Listen to yourself.

• Be willing to be still.

• Be confident that what you are thinking is valid and relevant.

• Choose consciously before you speak. Ensure that what you say is related to you and not a directive to diminish, change, or dismiss the other.

• Be patient with your self and during silences. Trust the emptiness, the sense of not knowing what to say or do. Sometimes just beginning to speak without determining the words brings forth opportunity.

• In speaking you can create. Give yourself permission to voice what is in the moment.

Maintain the Relationship: Look for the Similarities in the Differences

• Clarify intentions.

• Acknowledge each participant’s uniqueness, perceptions, beliefs.

• Create a container, an intentional space for safe communication.

• Hear and understand me. Identify what you want.
• Even if you disagree, please don’t make me wrong. Support dreaming. No one gets to     be wrong.
• Acknowledge the greatness within me.
• Remember to look for my loving intentions. Deepen the listening.
• Tell me the truth with compassion.

• Attend. Pay attention, observe, be aware.

 Ask. Gather information, withhold criticism, be respectful, honor the self.

• Act. Authentically do something that is consciously determined to be the best of all. Offer support; provide feedback. Maintain connection even if you disagree.

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Business Success: Principles of Dialogue Part 1

Last week was discussed what dialogue is and how important it is to business intelligence success. Over the next two weeks we will cover the practices and principles of dialogue. Dialogue can be learned.  A “‘practice’ is an activity you do repeatedly to help bring about an experience.”

A practice based on principles establishes a tradition. It is intentional and designed to create choices.audience-in-classroom-listening-intently-to-speaker-during-meeting_w725_h492

The Practice of Listening: “The Principle of Participation”

• Develop an Inner Silence”; Listen with All the Senses
• Notice the self; “attend to both words and the silence between the words”; be aware of thought.
• Let go of the inner clamor.
• Slow down; be still.
• Stick to the facts; suspend judgment.
• Stay in the present; do not jump to conclusions based on the past; look for evidence that challenges any convictions.
• Find the gaps.
• Listen together; question self and others.
The Practice of Respecting: “The Principle of Coherence”

• Observe, honor, and defer to others. See others as legitimate.
• Honor people’s boundaries; do not intrude; do not withhold the self or distance the self. Imposing is not honoring; sharing personal experience is.
• Accept that others have something to teach us.
• Pay attention to connections in differences; look for the relationship among the parts.
• Look for the whole; find the hub, the center in order to slow down and stay in the present.
• Notice the internal disturbance; suspend the desire to fix it or tell others to change. Find your own center and focus on yourself as part of the whole.
• Look for the elephant in the room and name the feeling. Make deliberate space for those who have a different point of view.
• Hold the tension; do not react to it.

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Enterprise Business Intelligence: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

The all-too-familiar promise of enterprise business intelligence is the ability to optimize decision-making at every level of the organization through a blend of systems and technologies that leverage highly useful, accessible, accurate data. In many industries, BI use is so pervasive that it is essential just to remain competitive! But many organizations never realize the full value simply because they are not agile enough to adapt to the new speed and complexity. leadership_techniques

The good: Great opportunities

Enterprise BI solutions offer a powerful competitive edge in today’s fast-paced, high-tech, global economy.

For years, organizations have been automating their reporting and online analytical processing capabilities. Recent trends are moving toward advanced analytics as the central focus of BI. This includes data mining, predictive analysis, complex SQL, natural language processing, statistics, and artificial intelligence. Advanced analytics provides a competitive advantage as it allows organizations to detect and model patterns and trends in all areas of their business, such as market shifts, supply chain economics, cost fluctuations, and more.

The bad: Typical challenges

Given the myriad of enterprise-BI solution options, just getting started can be challenging. In addition to the standard solutions that have been in use for many years, new Web 2.0 services, virtualization, social networking, and software-as-a-service options are available now, too. With so many choices and possible implications for the business, the decision-makers need to be thinking about how to optimize the balance between customer and shareholder value while considering all the financial and political implications.

The ugly: The real competitive advantage

Following an enterprise BI implementation, the expectation is that our day-to-day tasks will get simpler and more satisfying. After all, we have streamlined and automated many of the left-brain linear processes, freeing us to focus on expansion and innovation. But the reality is often very different. What many leaders don’t fully comprehend is the destabilizing effect that enterprise BI can have on an organization. Successful BI implementation requires a level of agility that is not inherent in most organizations.

Optimizing the benefits of BI in our continuously changing business climate requires the adaptability to manage the enormous complexity of redesigning processes, management structures, and measurement systems. In other words, to really understand and leverage the benefits of enterprise BI, we must understand the effect on all aspects of the organization — especially our culture and human capital. So what can we do?

An evaluation of interpersonal skills is a good first step. Why? Because in our new interconnected, interdependent organizations, team members must be able to connect and collaborate. This requires effective communication skills and a culture of trust. Skill-building in effective communication is a great place to start. Team-building and leadership development also deliver great value. Team-building develops a culture of trust. And with the current pace of change and need to adapt constantly, everyone is called on to be a leader at times.

Building adaptability through collaboration taps into the innate wisdom of the organization. The total benefit to the organization is often greater than the sum of the parts. This unleashes enormous energy for channeling into designing strategies for innovation, greater efficiency, and increased profits.

The finale

Whether you are just embarking on a BI solution, already have one in place, or are somewhere in between, it is worthwhile to assess and develop the interpersonal skills of everyone in your organization. The effectiveness of your BI solution will depend on the cohesiveness and agility of the CIO and his or her team. The failure of BI is typically blamed on the technology. But in truth, it is often a people issue.

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A Dynamic Organization Principle #7

Design Decision-Making Systems for Self-Organization

An efficient and effective decision-making system is critical to survival in a complex, volatile economy. Organizations must develop processes that encourage self-organization. Doing so requires an open sharing of the vision, the free flow of information, and strong communication between all levels of management on down.

Decision making is one area where rigor and precision are beneficial in an otherwise fluid atmosphere. Respect for people’s time must be balanced with ensuring that everyone has a voice. Creative incentive packages, such as the ones discussed in Business Intelligence Success Factors regarding collaboration, enhance emergence of self-organization.

Complex organizations require a variety of decision-making styles. Some are designed for day-to-day operations while others focus on long-term issues. For example, formal decision making regarding important issues of management and predefined time periods, such as strategic planning, annual budgeting, and executive committee meetings, is typically well designed and structured. Formal, nonperiodic decision making designed to handle unexpected situations may also follow a set format. Formal decision making is used when a decision is needed with regard to a major restructuring, new directions, or investments and crisis management. Since formal decision making covers a variety of areas and are not planned very far in advance, the attendees may not be known ahead of time. These types of meetings are more common in complex organizations that aim to adapt quickly to market changes. Informal decision making can happen anywhere. It is important for leaders to be aware of the effect of limited input on their decisions. Managers who want to promote self-organizing, team-based, distributed decision making must recognize their power to influence through their conversational style and remind others that their opinion is just one of many that deserves consideration.

To foster self-organization, a company must guide its decision making to resemble that of an entrepreneurial enterprise. For example, reducing the presence of top management in the day-to-day operations is a good first step. Combined with an effective information exchange through every level of the company hierarchy, this shift ensures that the flow of information goes beyond the typical sharing of knowledge to include daily insights, ideas, and issues as they arise.

Self-organizing companies need teams that have a broad range of skills that represent a microcosm of the company. Such companies can adapt more quickly due to competent leadership and decision making at many levels.

Learning by doing serves large companies by reviving the entrepreneurial spirit. New challenges inspire people to connect with others to find solutions and increase learning. This leads to faster adaption of new ideas that energizes the workforce and unleashes innovation.
Complex organizations that share decision making and accountability must also share compensation. Many financial instruments to associate compensation with performance exist, such as employee stock purchase plans, cash bonuses, and stock options. One creative practice by Thermo Electron is the practice of spinouts. The company “hands over day-to-day control of newly formed subsidiaries and fistfuls of share options to the staff. The stock has returned 20% per year since the practice began.”[i]

Come back for the next 3 Principles on Leading a Dynamic Organization! Feel free to comment with questions, insights, or additions to this post. To receive alerts when the next blog is published, click on the RSS feed at the top left of the page to subscribe.

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